Two weeks ago my husband and I hosted a cocktail party. While sipping wine and taking bites from the charcuterie boards, I was talking to a fellow mama about life with toddlers. The sweetness, the snuggles, and the cyclone style destruction they seem to cause on the daily.
We swapped war stories of our “not-so-shining parenting moments.” After laughing hysterically and commiserating, she remarked how impressed she was that with two toddler boys that I manage to keep such a tidy house.
First, I was utterly flattered by her compliment, but I was quick to come forward with the fact that it’s something I work on with my toddlers all day long. When we’re done playing with one thing, the boys know that we simply put it away before moving on to the next activity. We make our fair share of messes along the way, and we are incredibly grateful for our housekeeper’s help!
But that being said, my best tip for letting them be little, living in the moment, making memories and messes while keeping my home clean is this: GO OUTSIDE! Get outdoors. Every day if you can! Climb hills, take a hike, splash in a puddle, build a sandcastle, get down and dirty. Just do it away from your living room, ha!
Yes, despite my “type A” certifiable clean freak-ness, my notable girlie-ness, and need to always be in control, I am totally cool with my little dudes getting dirty! And I encourage it! There are so many benefits beyond keeping your house clean (although that’s a huge bonus). Today, I’m sharing 12 additional reasons why I let my littles make messes outside!
1. It teaches them independence.
When we’re on a hiking trail, my husband walks several paces ahead with our Labrador so he can alert us to any precautions we may need to take; “Watch your step here” or “Be careful over there.” This allows our toddlers to navigate the path safely but independently with mommy following behind in case they genuinely need a helping hand. Doing this has given our children a sense of confidence and self-reliance while they get to explore, touch, and feel nature for themselves. If they stumble and get a little dirty, they brush themselves off and keep going. It makes my heart smile so big to see them learning completely hands-on, on their own.
Read More: 10 Best Toys for Outdoor Play
2. They develop their senses and fine motor skills.
As a parent, it’s thrilling to watch your child’s eyes light up digging their toes in the sand at the playground, running their fingers over fresh moss growing on a tree at the park, picking through pebbles to find the perfect round one to put in their pocket, or splashing in a puddle at the end of the driveway after a big rain. It’s with these little discoveries that they are training their senses. They are using fine motor skills to learn about different textures in nature, they are using their senses to decide how they feel about them, and they are making countless memories. It doesn’t get better than that!
3. They are using their imagination in BIG ways.
Have you ever noticed how quickly a jungle gym can become a princess castle or pirate ship in the eyes of a toddler? Or how a walk through the park can become an African Safari in an instant? These moments of imagination are signs of substantial intellectual development. Sure, you could easily engage your toddler in imaginative play indoors (and you should), but taking it outside simply adds a new layer of complexity to the storyline. It can spark new ideas and scenarios to learn from.
4. It helps their coordination and balance.
Attempting a bike ride, walking across a fallen log, and climbing up a rocky trail requires coordination and balance that you simply can’t acquire without taking a tumble or two and learning cause and effect. It’s a messy process that can result in scuffed knees and muddy shoes, but the pay off is allowing your child to master these skills at their own pace.
5. They learn to self-direct, and their attention spans increase.
When my littles are making mud pies, a part of me cringes thinking about the laundry I’m bound to face that evening… But then I watch as the seconds turn into minutes, and soon an hour passes that they have been completely engaged in play. Without fighting, without my intervention, without me having to tell them what to do. When we’re playing inside, they pull out a different toy every 5 minutes. Nothing seemingly holds their attention for long before they’ve destroyed their room and quickly proclaim they are bored, looking to me to advise them on what activity they can engage in next. And let’s be honest, sometimes we all run out of educational/productive things for our tots to do indoors. Getting messy outside engages kids in a way that no toy can. As a result, they can focus their attention on their current activity and play independently and confidently.
6. It increases vitamin D!
Sunscreen is essential, of course, but playing outside exposes your kiddo to a healthy dose of vitamin D (so long as your not overexposing them, no sunburns, please!). Vitamin D helps increase their bone strength, improves their immune system, and did you know that it can aid in more restorative sleep? Which brings me to my next reason for outdoor play…
7. Playing hard outside wears them out!
Whenever we have resistance at nap time, my go-to solution is sunshine. We get outside and take a long walk. We explore, we talk, we share ideas, we laugh, and we work our way back towards the house much more ready to wind down for an afternoon nap. This past Sunday, we did a big hike at the nature preserve just outside of town, and our boys haven’t slept that hard in a VERY long time. Our two-year-old, who still wakes at 3 am nightly requesting a drink, didn’t make a peep all night. It was totally worth the 4.5 miles we hiked that day.
8. Exploring green space can reduce your child’s stress.
According to a Cornell study, views of nature and outdoor play in green space helps aid in stress reduction for kids. You might be thinking, what does a three-year-old have to be “stressed” about? But have you ever seen your little one flip their lid when trying to get them to share a toy? Toddlers are high strung, it’s a part of development, but taking a roll in the green grass can help reduce their stress and increase positive social interactions. According to the study, “Green spaces foster social interaction and thereby promote social support.” It sounds like a good enough reason to “go green” for playtime to me!
9. It can improve and strengthen their vision for life.
Your toddler has years ahead of using his or her vision for closeup work like reading, taking tests, and working on computers in school, which we now know can be damaging to our sight. Now is the time to strengthen their sight by spending time outside where it’s light! They then are using their eyes to focus on far away subjects in the distance, birds in the sky, and finding figures in the clouds, according to the Optometry And Vision Science Journal.
10. Dirt can improve immunity!
Expanding on the last two health benefits, playing in dirt and soil, being exposed to different microbes and bacteria, can build up your child’s immunity. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend eating those mud pies your toddler is making in the backyard, but according to our research and quoting our pediatrician, “A little dirt won’t hurt!”
11. Making a mess = Making memories!
I read a sign once that said, “Excuse our mess, we’re making memories,” and my initial reaction was this: your home doesn’t need to be a mess for your children to make memories if that’s not “your thing.” Frankly, the idea of a consistently messy house personally makes me completely stressed out, and for me, that’s not conducive to making happy memories at all! But I get it, making a mess is fun! And I do enjoy the time spent outside getting dirty with my children. There will be plenty of time for me to fix my manicure, but right now, we’ll make muddy memories outside (and we’ll leave the mess there, too)!
12. It’s good for YOU, mama!
I never knew until I had two boys and an Eagle Scout for a husband just how much I, myself, enjoyed getting outside. I can’t stand the gym, but I love a good long hike. I am not great at sports, but I can dribble a soccer ball with my four year old. Getting sweaty, burning calories, having fun, and playing with my littles releases all of those positive endorphins you get from a good workout, but you don’t even notice you’re doing it. That’s a pretty great healthy bonus to family-friendly fun!
Do you let your littles make a mess? Play in the dirt and make muddy memories? I want to hear about it!